Bored Already? Stop and Think How
Lucky You Are
By David Hoffmann
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
BOSTON-For people around the world who are watching the Democratic convention
from Boston, this is a week of media madness -- and a taste of democracy at its
In many countries, open media and access to information -- the kind we will
see in the coverage of both conventions -- are not allowed.
Think about it. Among the 15,000 journalists covering this event are reporters
from Moscow to Manila, Cairo to the Congo; and they are filing stories in Chinese,
Pashtun, Polish, Russian and other languages. Many of these reporters cant
freely file stories on their own countrys politics, but they will aggressively
As Americans, we live and breathe in the information age. We expect to find
up-to-the-minute news throughout the day about our politics and politicians. Media
are central to our economy, our culture, our political system and our everyday
lives. Reporting on American politics is something we take for granted -- until
we think about what life would be without open media.
In Russia, President Putin won a landslide victory following an election campaign
where the news on state-controlled media was strictly controlled and airtime for
opposition candidates was severely limited. Just this month, two journalists were
found murdered, including the American Paul Klebnikov, who was known for his investigative
reporting on the countrys business sector.
In China, the government censors Internet Web sites that challenge the official
version of events. In Iran, dozens of newspapers have been banned and their editors
thrown in jail. In Zimbabwe, journalists are beaten and jailed. In Kazakhstan
and Azerbaijan, independent television stations have been suppressed, and media
owners and publishers have been victims of anonymous physical violence. Afghanistan
is just starting to rebuild its media architecture after years of Taliban rule
that prohibited almost all forms of media. Iraq is still reeling from decades
of state propaganda under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
What we learn from closed societies, and those in transition, is that open
media is critical to the development of tolerant, civil societies. Experience
teaches us that media are essential for holding free elections and fair elections.
Without open media, one cannot assess candidates and issues. Without open media,
corruption and human rights abuses cannot be exposed. Without the free exchange
of ideas, citizens cannot make informed decisions about their lives and leaders.
We need to engage our own citizens and those of other countries in the political
process. We will never have support for democracy if we are ill informed, at home
So, just when you think you cannot watch one more balloon fly over the convention
floor, one more sign or banner, one more delegate trying to be heard above the
crowd, think about the alternatives: not knowing what the real issues are, not
having confidence that what you hear has any relationship to reality. Think about
what it would be like not to have columnists and commentators passionately debate
the merits of the candidates speeches or having the freedom to read articles
that openly criticize them.
And tune in both to Boston and New York next month -- to see one of democracys
finest rituals: unlimited coverage of an open process that many countries seek
but cannot yet attain.
David Hoffman is the
president of Internews, an international non-profit organization that provides
professional-journalism training for journalists and station managers around the